Scientific Vision for Summit Station, Greenland

Artist’s conception of a future Summit Station, including renewable energy (wind and solar), elevated, modular buildings, and moveable ground structures that scale to the population.

Over the coming decades, research conducted at Summit Station will provide unique insights into Arctic-wide and global climate processes and answer transformative science questions about the role of the Greenland Ice Sheet in the global climate system. Summit will remain the only high altitude, high latitude, inland, year-round observatory in the Arctic. Summit offers immediate access to the free troposphere and is relatively free of local influences that could corrupt atmospheric observations. As such, it is ideally suited for studies aimed at identifying and understanding long-range, intercontinental transport and its influences on the ice sheet surface, boundary layer, and overlying atmosphere. The pristine and remote location in a year-round dry snow and ice region provides an optimal facility for energy and surface mass balance, radiation measurements, and remote sensing validation studies. Summit is also a prime site for astronomy and astrophysics research due to its high altitude and dry, stable atmosphere.

Summit is the site of the GISP2 ice core, a 3053m ice core drilled down to bedrock in 1993 with high-resolution samples of the atmosphere dating back 140,000 years before present, against which atmospheric and meteorological observations extending from 1989 to the present can be compared and understood. Summit, amid changes in the climate both in the Arctic and across the globe, will become a critical, perhaps the sole, comparison site in the northern hemisphere for studies of large-scale climate processes. Operated as a minimalist research station hundreds of miles from any settlement, it will remain free of local and regional pollution for decades to come. Maintaining the pristine nature of Summit is of upmost importance to continue highly sensitive observations of the atmosphere and snow. Current and planned efforts to reduce local impacts include maintenance of clean air and clean and undisturbed snow zones, deployment of clean, renewable energy sources and development of efficient, autonomous scientific instrumentation in energy-efficient structures. Placing camp structures on elevated, jackable platforms, reducing the overall footprint of the station, and decreasing aircraft transport to Summit will reduce the impact of station operations on the site while also reducing operational costs and gaining efficiency.

Investigations into tropospheric chemistry, snow chemistry, air-snow exchange, cloud physics, and climate processes will remain prominent, with research activities expanding in seismology, space weather, particle physics, atmospheric physics, astronomy, and astrophysics. Summit will serve as a test bed for new technology designed for remote operation and remote sensing in harsh environments. Core scientific values of Summit as a research facility are to provide:
• A platform that allows collection of the highest quality observations to answer key questions about climate processes in the northern hemisphere,
• Year-round observations of key climatic and atmospheric variables that are changing and also driving change in Greenland, the Arctic, and the entire northern hemisphere,
• Access to a pristine, year-round, and one of a kind research location for transformative, interdisciplinary research across a range of scientific fields, while being representative of much of the Greenland Ice Sheet.
• A platform for training next generation scientists
The scientific vision for Summit in the coming decades is for it to become a pre-eminent polar research site integrated into an arctic network of observatories and supporting cutting edge research across disciplines. Achieving this goal will require collaboration, innovation, creativity, and a commitment to development of the station to a more efficient, modular, and flexible platform, while maintaining a clean air sector for atmospheric measurements, limiting fossil fuel consumption, and moderating resource use and activity at the site. The coming challenge is to maintain the unique characteristics of Summit. Expanding multi-disciplinary, multi-agency, and international scientific research in the Arctic and at Summit specifically requires increased cooperation and communication among agencies and research communities.

2 August 2017
The Science Coordination Office (SCO) for Summit Station and the Greenland Traverse

The Science Coordination Office (SCO) for Summit Station and the Greenland Traverse (GrIT) is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF Award #1042531). This document includes input from the NSF Geoscience Directorate, Office of Polar Programs, Arctic Sciences Section. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.